The Asia Foundation, an over-6-decade old nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across developing Asia, has released the 2018 Survey of the Afghan People. The survey, supported by USAID and now in its fourteenth year, is a dynamic exploration of the opinions of Afghans. With over 112,000 respondents from all 34 provinces, the survey reveals the populations’ perceptions when it comes to social change. Since 2004 the surveys have covered the topics of security, elections, governance, the economy, essential services, and issues specific to women and youth.
Overall, the Survey of the Afghan People reveals that most Afghans continue to be pessimistic about their country’s direction. Ahead of next year’s elections, they expressed concerns about security, lack of jobs and corruption. Only a third of those surveyed – 32.8 percent – said the country was moving in the right direction. This was the same proportion as last year. Insecurity was the top reason for pessimism in the Asia Foundation survey, cited by 72.5 percent of participants. This was followed by the economy and jobs, poor governance and endemic corruption, along with irregular electricity and water supply.
Yet hope is on the rise
Despite this, Afghans remain eager and hopeful for a better future. Optimism has been gradually rising in Afghanistan over the past 14 years. Many Afghans perceive progress in the areas of reconstruction, security, and education. Women’s participation in the political process has improved markedly since the fall of the Taliban, when women had no rights of participation or representation. The first parliamentary elections run completely by Afghan authorities since 2001 took place in October, and voters turned out with a message that they reject the militant Taliban’s ideology.
Women’s concerns addressed
According to the women who responded to the survey, their most significant challenges are illiteracy or lack of education (40.9%), unemployment (26.7%), domestic violence (19.2%), forced marriage (12.5%), lack of rights (12.5%), and poverty (11.3%).
- According to the UNDP, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, and female literacy sits at about 31.7% of adults. UNICEF reports that 3.7 million school-age children are out of school—60% of them girls. However, support for gender equality in education has grown from 82.3% last year to 84% this year.
- The national unemployment level currently stands at about 24%, and more than 54.5% of the population lives below the poverty line on less than a dollar a day, according to the 2016-17 Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey.
- The findings in terms of women’s access to justice for family disputes are encouraging, with more women than men (21.6% vs. 16.4%) bringing such conflicts to court or other judicial bodies. Furthermore, support is waning for traditional practices of forced marriage, with a steady increase in disapproval rates since 2004. Much of this trend can be attributed to media and public awareness campaigns led by civil society organizations and international donors, as well as to three agencies of the Afghan government: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the police, who have established special units to provide support services to women.
It will be interesting to see how changes that occur in Afghanistan over the next year will be reflected in the 2019 Survey of the Afghan People. Of specific concern, as expressed in this year’s survey, is the anxiety within the population about recent peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban. How would such a reconciliation affect the ongoing issues within the country, particularly those related to women? Only time (and another annual survey) will tell. To read more about the important work of The Asia Foundation, go to their website at https://asiafoundation.org/where-we-work/afghanistan/survey/.